ISU running back Cameron Hunt says the Redbirds need to get off to a good start Saturday at South Dakota. (You Name It Sports/B Corbin)
By Bryan Bloodworth
NORMAL - Illinois State's football team finds itself in elite company with it best start to a season in 45 years.
The Redbirds are one of only nine Football Championship Subdivision teams without a blemish on their record in four games. They are ranked 12th nationally and off to their best start since the 1967 team began the season with six straight victories.
But rather than rest on their laurels, the Redbirds have their sights set higher.
"We don't want to just be 4-0," senior free safety Ben Ericksen said Tuesday at the team's weekly news conference. "We want to stay focused, win the conference, make it to the playoffs and keep our eye on the prize."
And despite the fast start, ISU coach Brock Spack thinks his team can play better.
"We've got a long way to go," he said. "The ceiling is pretty high yet. There are a lot of things we can get better at in all phases of our game. As long as we can keep the group together and stay relatively healthy, I think we'll continue to get better. The good news is I think we're better than we're playing."
The Redbirds face their second straight Missouri Valley Conference road test Saturday when they travel to the 10,000-seat Dakota Dome in Vermillion, S.D. to face the University of South Dakota.
The Coyotes, the newest members of the Valley, are 1-2 overall and will be playing their first conference game against ISU.
"It will be a very difficult place to play," added Spack. "It will be very loud. It's kind of like a basketball arena or indoor football stadium. The fans are really on top of you. It's different than the other two domes we've played in. The noise will be a concern. We'll have to play very well to win there."
Spack said it would be to the Redbirds' advantage to get off to a good start.
"We'll need to quiet the crowd a little bit and put them back on their heels," he continued. "I thought that was what we did (last) Saturday. Coming out of the gate strong would be really advantageous for us."
Running back Cameron Hunt said the coaching staff has been stressing that this week in practice.
"We've got to come out hard and put them away early," Hunt continued. "We have to play with a good tempo right from the start."
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at email@example.com